GP practices in Northern Ireland get £15m boost
Stormont Health Minister Jim Wells has announced £15m in funding for GP services in Northern Ireland.
The money includes £10m in loans for GP practices to upgrade and expand their premises, and £300,000 to meet the ongoing costs of these new surgeries.
Up to £3.1m is being invested in out-of-hours GP services, while £300,000 goes towards recruitment and retention.
GPs will also receive £1.2m to carry out blood tests and other diagnostic work in the community.
Mr Wells said: "This package of investment will help to address some of the current difficulties and plan for future challenges in general practice."
He said the extra money for out-of-hours GP services would "help ensure that there is an alternative to our stretched Emergency Departments for those who cannot wait to see their own GP".
The minister said he was also cutting bureaucracy.
"GPs will now have 15 fewer government indicators to meet, meaning more time to spend with patients and less time filling in forms," he said.
BMA NI chairman Tom Black said while he welcomed the additional funding, "Northern Ireland needs a long-term commitment of recurrent funding if we are to see a positive impact on GP services".
"Even with this investment, funding for general practice in Northern Ireland will continue to lag behind that of the rest of the UK," he said.
Royal College of GPs Northern Ireland chair John O'Kelly said it was a "welcome first step in addressing the GP workforce crisis, as well as the underinvestment in general practice".
"GPs in Northern Ireland are working harder than ever, making 12.7 million consultations a year - an increase of 76% in the last decade," he said.
"Yet despite our spiralling workloads, real terms funding for general practice has been cut and it's our patients who have been bearing the brunt by having to wait longer and longer to see their GP.
"This promise of new funding shows the government has acknowledged the severity of our concerns."